- A new infrastructure plan released by the Trump administration aims to reduce federal project reviews to two years by reducing the number of evaluations and setting new guidelines for state reviews.
- The plan, released Monday, would see the White House designate a lead agency for infrastructure project reviews, set a 21-month timeline for evaluations and institute a 150-day statute of limitations on permitting decisions. Currently, such reviews typically take between three and five years, which can stretch into decades.
- The plan would also end the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to review environmental reviews from other agencies under the Clean Air Act and clarify deadlines for states to challenge infrastructure projects under the Clean Water Act.
The 53-page infrastructure plan released by the White House on Monday is its most detailed proposal for infrastructure yet.
The plan, dubbed a "legislative outline" contains a litany of provisions that would have to be enacted by Congress. Like the president's budget, also released Monday, the plan is likely to serve as a starting point for further negotiation in the House and Senate, and is unlikely to be adopted in its original form.
The plan would direct the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to rewrite its interpretation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for the first time since 1978, seeking to eliminate what the White House calls "duplicative" reviews by designating a single agency for each project
"Currently, federal NEPA reviews are conducted by the federal agencies with jurisdiction over the same project. Agencies are encouraged, but not required, to prepare joint analyses," the plan reads. "Requiring joint analyses can reduce the potential for delay caused by separate analyses."
The plan would end the EPA's obligation under the Section 309 of the Clean Air Act to publish comments on most environmental impact statements (EISs) prepared by other agencies. The White House argues these reviews add another step to the approval process without environmental benefits.
EPA would still have the authority to review EISs "on matters within EPA's jurisdiction or EPA's responsibilities."
"This review is no longer necessary, given that federal agencies have gained significant NEPA experience since this law was enacted and because EPA has other authority to review and comment on matters within its jurisdiction," the plan reads.
Trump's infrastructure proposal would also reach to the states, seeking to clarify deadlines for states to complete water quality evaluations for projects like interstate pipelines under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act.
Currently, states have a one-year deadline to complete the review, but the process can become longer if states ask for refiling or must wait for action from federal agencies on project permits.
The issue has become pronounced in the Northeast in recent years. Last September, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission overruled a New York decision to deny water quality permits to an interstate pipeline, saying the state regulators waited too long to issue their ruling under Section 401.
"Amending the Clean Water Act to change the time period for issuance of a State 401 Certification by addressing the time periods for making a completeness determination and the time for a State decision would reduce this delay," the plan argues.
The infrastructure proposal would also seek to cut down on litigation over environmental permitting, setting a new statute of limitations on federal decisions. Today, most NEPA permits have a six-year statute, meaning that projects can be delayed for more than half a decade after receiving final approval, E&E News notes.
"Establishing a uniform statute of limitations of 150 days for decisions and permits on infrastructure projects would reduce uncertainty and prevent substantial delays in project delivery, while still affording affected parties an adequate opportunity to initiate legal challenges," the plan argues.